(HealthDay News) — Only about 40 percent of the nearly $2.9 billion in international aid pledged to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa had reached the hard-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone by Dec. 31, according to a report published Feb. 3 in The BMJ.

Delays in aid may have contributed to the spread of the virus and even increased the need for money to fight the outbreak, according to study author Karen Grepin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of global health policy at New York University in New York City.

In late March 2014, Guinea alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) about a rapidly spreading Ebola outbreak in the southeastern part of the country. An initial shipment of protective equipment and other medical supplies was sent to Guinea within a few weeks. However, the first appeal for international aid was not issued until August, when the WHO asked for $71 million. By mid-September, the agency was asking for $1 billion, and that increased to $1.5 billion by mid-November.

The findings suggest there needs to be a way to more rapidly distribute funds to fight public health threats such as Ebola. A dedicated fund for public health emergencies might be one way, Grepin suggested. “Monitoring and tracking donor responses to the epidemic, and how the money was spent, is important to improve our response to future public health threats,” Grepin said in a journal news release.

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